Sep 182008

I’m exploring some ideas for a Neo-geography element to the geographical curriculum and created a new category for blog posts on the topic as I share my experiences from the classroom over the forthcoming months.

Neogeography at school

Neogeography at school

This week I deliberately used the term Neo-geography with my Year 7 class (11 years old). Over the course of two lessons we compared the merits of Google Earth/Maps and traditional Ordnance Survey paper maps.

Ed Parsons has commented on a recent BBC story highlighting the fears of the British Cartographic Society over “damage to future generations of map readers because this skill is not being taught in schools and people are simply handling geographical data” (err pardon – National Curriculum anyone?) Ed’s point that “one could argue for the need of a “new” cartography which adopts rather than ignores the capabilities of screen based maps to portray information dynamically” is a theme that is reinforced by the inspiring Richard Treves who I recently met at the Geo Education Summit at Google (and who drew my attention to Ed’s post)

Rising to the BCS’s bait, the students had little difficulty in identifying the merits of the two different approaches to mapping, indeed they showed rather more consideration of the issue than the Ordnance Survey reporting of the debate.  With no prompting at all, the students identified the principal advantages of Google Earth/Maps as:

1) Finding places quickly

2) Zooming in and out!

3) Display of geotagged photos (with GMaps Street View being a particular delight!) and 3D buildings

4) Display of real time information such as the weather

5) Free to use (though requiring a computer and the internet)

The Ordnance Survey map on the other hand offered the merits of reliability, light weight, plenty of detail, a key and cheaper running costs. The students were perfectly able to identify the user groups for the two different approaches to mapping. Ironically the Ordnance Survey advert featuring the mountain biker unintentionally reinforces the advantages of a Google Map – at least in one respect!

The students were delighted to learn that they were present on possibly the first outing of the  neo-geography word in a school classroom, and had little difficulty in appreciating the need for a term that describes the extraordinary potential of tools such as Google Earth to find out about, map and describe their world. The resolution of my school in Google Earth is sufficiently good that I can sit a student under a skylight in my room and locate them with a placemark accurate to centimeters. They gasped when they measured the distance from school to home – in centimetres, and enthusiastically collaborated on a map of their routes to school:

Routes to school

Routes to school

I’m not entirely sure that this activity was “damaging the future map readers”. Indeed they are really looking forward to recieving their Free Maps for School, thanks to the generosity of the OS. It would be great if we could have a copy of the local area as a KML overlay as well. In the meantime this site will have to do.